Meet Marie Myung-Ok Lee, an acclaimed author who collaborates with her 23-year-old son Jason, an autistic individual, to investigate the current portrayal of Autism in film and television. Through their analysis of Popular Movies such as Extraordinary Attorney Woo, The Good Doctor, and Music, among others, they offer insight into the evolving landscape of this disorder on screen.
In the 70s, Marie never encountered anyone diagnosed with Autism because it was still a relatively unknown condition. However, with the release of the film Rain Man in 1988, she first heard the term and gained a limited understanding of it. The movie portrayed Autism as a rare condition, often accompanied by exceptional abilities and quirky behavior.
But was that Autism? In the past, it was often associated with genius exemplified by historical figures such as Emily Dickinson, & Einstein. Later on, the diagnosis became more common; it became something to be worried or afraid of.
Media Portrayal of Autism
Marie is not pleased with the Media’s portrayal of her son Jason, who is autistic. He is not a genius like Rain Man, nor does he have an IQ of 40, as the experts had stated. While her son Jason has his limitations due to his physical body not being fully cooperative with him, he still possesses normal qualities such as empathy, thoughtfulness, and clever wit. Unfortunately, the media often portrays individuals with Autism in a stereotypical manner, which Marie and her son find frustrating.
Jason himself took his time to watch how autistic individuals were being represented on the screen, and his response was something that others might not have anticipated. It served as a reminder that honest depiction of autistic people in media can only be accomplished if Autistic people themselves are incorporated into the movies.
Portrayal of Attorney Wu
The first movie that Jason and Marie watched together was “Extraordinary Attorney Wu”, a 2022 South Korean drama series that instantly gained worldwide attention. The plot follows the life of attorney Wu, who excels in law school but faces rejection in job opportunities due to her Autism. She is eventually hired by a prestigious law firm much later than expected.
Marie was unable to continue watching after only 15 minutes of the first episode. She had concerns about the portrayal of Attorney Wu’s childhood. It’s true that Attorney Wu and Jason shared similar experiences, such as having meltdowns and using noise-cancelling headphones. However, the show’s focus on these aspects only served to make Autistic people feel disconnected. No aspect of the show focused on someone with a visual or physical disability, which left Marie feeling uneasy. Despite her initial disappointment, she couldn’t help but wonder if there were other shows out there that portrayed individuals with disabilities in a more accurate light.
The next movie Jason and Marie watched was “As We See It.” Unfortunately, Jason wasn’t pleased with the series. He even expressed his frustration in a more direct manner, saying, “I despise this show immensely. It does not accurately portray what it is like to be autistic,” Jason struggled to relate to any of the characters or situations depicted in the series and added, “I don’t think I can continue watching without feeling nauseous. This show only focuses on quirky individuals who are able to do things like drive, hold jobs, and have friends. None of these aspects reflect my true experience with Autism.”
Following Movie was called “HearBreak High”. Jason didn’t like the movie – he thought it was too sexual and didn’t accurately represent what it is like to be autistic. However, Netflix’s remake of the 90s Australian comedy series has been praised by the neurodiverse community for including a queer autistic character named Quinn, played by Chloe Hayden, who is also an autistic actress.
In short, Movies are still showcasing individuals with Autism as people who exhibit savant-like abilities and extraordinary intelligence. However, there is a strong need for programs that can accurately portray the day-to-day challenges of living with Autism, such as difficulty with communication and motor control. The number of exceptional Autistic people is 20 in 200. Many Autistic people feel that Media is way off the mark.
Illinois Autism Center
Support and Treatment for Individuals with Autism is the Key to Unlocking Their Full Potential. At Illinois Autism Center, we are committed to empowering individuals with Autism by providing specialized services such as therapy, & education programs. We aim to improve quality of life while also promoting awareness.